California criminal cases usually follow a series of
starting with an arrest and ending with a plea bargain or with trial and sentencing. People facing criminal charges can familiarize themselves with how most criminal cases proceed to help them understand the next steps in their own cases.
The Arrest and Booking
Most criminal cases begin with an arrest made by a police officer. A police officer can arrest someone he or she observes committing a crime or can use an arrest warrant issued by a judge. Police officers can also make an arrest if they have probable cause to believe a person has committed a crime. The officer will take the person he or she arrested and book them at the police station. During booking, the police take the person's photograph and fingerprints, secure personal belongings, and detain the person, usually in a holding cell.
After an arrest, the prosecutor, also called the district attorney, decides whether to file criminal charges against the arrested person and if so, which types of charges to file. The District Attorney has up to one (1) year to file misdemeanor charges and three (3) years to file felony charges.
In a separate process, people who are arrested on DUI charges should contact the DMV and schedule an administrative DMV hearing to try and save their driving privileges. One must act quickly and call the DMV within ten (10) days after the arrest to schedule a hearing.
The arraignment refers to the first court appearance before the judge. The judge will read the charges filed by the District Attorney against the individual - known in court as a defendant - and advise the defendant of his or her rights. The judge will ask the defendant to enter a plea. The defendant may enter a plea of "not guilty", "guilty", or "no contest" to the charges. If the defendant pleads guilty or no contest, he or she will be sentenced. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the post-arraignment process begins.
At the arraignment, the judge will determine whether the defendant will be granted bail and schedule future court dates. Defendants who are granted bail can pay the bail amount and be released from jail. If the defendant is released, he or she must attend future court dates. Sometimes, defendants are released on their own recognizance, meaning they do not have to post bail but must promise to attend court.
After the arraignment, some defendants are able to settle their cases or get them dismissed, often with the help of an attorney. In felony cases, if the case does not settle or get dismissed, the judge will hold a preliminary hearing in court to decide if there is enough evidence for the defendant to stand trial for the criminal charges.
In both felony and misdemeanor cases, the prosecutor and the defendant's attorney exchange information and documents in a process called "discovery". They can file motions with the court to exclude evidence from trial, to dismiss the case, or for other reasons. Often the prosecutor and the defendant's attorney talk about resolving the case without going to trial. Finally, the defendant can change his or her plea to "guilty" or "no contest".
If the defendant's case does not settle or get dismissed before the trial date, then the defendant has the right to have a jury decide his or her guilt or innocence. At trial, the prosecutor must convince the jury that the defendant is guilty of the charges filed against him or her beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the jury decides that the defendant is guilty of some or all of the charges, or if the defendant pleads guilty, the defendant will attend a sentencing hearing in court. Once the judge orders the terms and conditions, the defendant must serve his or her sentence.
Call DUI Lawyer Virginia L. Landry Today
If you or a loved one is arrested, there are often defenses available to help you get the charges reduced or avoid a conviction. Our experienced California criminal defense lawyers will work quickly after an arrest to protect your rights in criminal court proceedings. We know how to raise the defenses needed to fight the charges and clear your name. Call us today at 1-866-902-6880 or visit us online at www.orangecountycriminallaw.com.